From a Small to a Pretty Big Shutdown

Last Friday I argued that the Republicans running Congress were in effect executing a “small shutdown” of the federal government by suspending certain routine activities–like confirming Court of Appeals judges–pending the 2016 election, after which they hope to be running the whole show in Washington.

Now comes Jonathan Chait with a similar suggestion about what these birds will wind up doing if King v. Burrell throws the Affordable Care Act into turmoil:

If the lawsuit succeeds, the Republicans in Congress will find themselves in the same position as when they shut down the government. They will be demanding policy concessions in return for doing something they agree has to happen. Holding out for concessions in those circumstances is very hard. The pressure inevitably grows for the House leadership to bring a Democratic bill to the floor and let it pass with a handful of Republican votes.

Alternatively, Congress could remain gridlocked, and leave it to each state to fix the problem by establishing its own exchange, assuming such a course is technically possible. But that would simply replicate at the state level the same dilemma Republicans can’t navigate at the national level: How can Republican elected officials navigate between a public that does not want to throw innocent people off the life-saving care they get through Obamacare, and an activist base demanding they do exactly that?

It makes me feel a bit more hopeful that someone as smart and as aware of Republican pathology as Chait thinks there’s a possibility Republicans could get pressured into treating an Obamacare “fix” as must-pass legislation like the appropriations everyone knew they had to provide during the last government shutdown. But more likely, the GOP will freeze, at least until they have a sense of how the blame game is working out, and in the meantime work overtime to attribute every single bit of fallout from the court decision to the party that made the bad thing happen by trying to do something good. It would be a pretty big if partial shutdown.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.